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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

White House "Champions of Change" Award for Unique TapToTalk Project

In February, we reported about the unique project at the West Virginia Assistive Technology System, a part of the Center for Excellence in Disabilities at West Virginia University, that helps first responders and public transit drivers communicate with those who may have communication limitations or for whom English is not their primary language.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency named this project as one of the 2014 FEMA Individual and Community Preparedness Award winners. The awards recognize programs and individuals who have taken action to prepare their communities for disasters and helped to make their communities more resilient. These winners were just recognized at the White House as "Champions of Change." Here is the full story.

We are proud of this creative use of TapToTalk and add our voices to those honoring Brittany Valdez, Regina Mayolo, and all those who were part of the Champions of Change team.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A mom's story: "TapToTalk has given Kaitlyn a way of communicating with us that has changed all of our lives"

This guest post was written by Susan Tarr, whose daughter has been using TapToTalk since 2010.

Children are born every day, and as they learn and grow, most reach developmental milestones around the same age as their peers. Sometimes a child does not reach one or more developmental milestones and the child and family require support. The ability to talk and communicate ones needs is essential. What can be done when someone is unable to speak due to autism, cerebral palsy, stroke, ALS, or other conditions? It can be frustrating for a nonverbal person to try to communicate their wants or needs with someone and it is equally frustrating for those trying to understand what is being communicated.

Our daughter Kaitlyn (pictured) was born sixteen years ago; she did not eat well, slept most of the time, and did not reach developmental milestones. The first two years of Kaitlyn’s life we worried and continuously compared her development (or lack of) to that of her siblings. Finally, we found a new pediatrician who introduced us to many specialists and got Kaitlyn into a program called Early Intervention. Attending Early Intervention with Kaitlyn gave us hope, but when she wasn’t walking or talking by three, we feared that this was going to be a long road.

You don’t know what you don’t know so you do not know what to ask for. It’s not easy to get help figuring out what you need for your child. Kaitlyn’s first speech therapist refused to try Boardmaker pictos with Kaitlyn until she made eye contact; Kaitlyn was five years old before a new speech therapist introduce picture exchange to Kaitlyn (and us). Picture exchange was Kaitlyn’s first method of communicating with us. Because she ripped everything, I placed every picture in a 2x2 inch magnetic plastic frame and kept them on the refrigerator.

After a few years, my husband I began our pursuit of finding an augmentative communication device for Kaitlyn. We wanted something portable and destruction proof – she could drop it or throw it without warning. The speech therapists Kaitlyn had never could find the right device for her. We bought a Dynavox that Kaitlyn used for awhile but she was not gentle with it so the teachers were afraid to use it with her and finally it broke. We went through many communication books--laminate is not strong enough for Kaitlyn (nor are spiral binders). Speech therapists recommended many AAC devices but all were thousands of dollars, fragile, and most were not easily customized. A few years ago a friend discovered the app TapToTalk and recommended we look into it for Kaitlyn.

TapToTalk is an AAC app that allows nonverbal people to communicate by touching pictures that produce speech that match the picture. TapToTalk can be used on most mobile devices and one person’s album(s) can be uploaded to as many devices as desired. We have found that the cost of TapToTalk Designer ($150) and a mobile device was much less expensive than the AAC devices we had looked at with the school speech therapists.

Anyone who needs a mode of communication would benefit from the TapToTalk app. TapToTalk albums are similar to folder systems where pictures can be sorted into categories and linked to related items so that the user can go right to the word (picture) that they need. Hungry can lead to “breakfast”, “meals”, and “snacks”, and these categories can lead to food choices. The ability to customize pages and albums for one individual is endless! The Designer has many options when creating albums.

TapToTalk can be downloaded as a free app and used as it is. The free app's sample albums are well designed and may be enough for some people to use. We used the free app while I was creating pages in albums using TapToTalk Designer. Designer costs $150. My husband and I felt it was worth every penny to give our daughter the ability to tell us what she wanted, needed, and felt. $150 is a small price to pay to change someone’s life for the better and give them a voice.

TapToTalk Designer allows the “programmer” to customize the albums to meet the needs of the individual user. There are multitudes of ways to find the right picture to use for personalized communication needs. The TapToTalk picture library contains over 2,600 pictures from several different categories. Pictures can also be uploaded from personal computer libraries and pictures can be taken on your device or from the internet, and uploaded onto TapToTalk. There are many options for adding speech to each picture as well. TapToTalk is available in many different languages and in many different English accents, but because you can record your own voice, TapToTalk albums can be created in any language. You can change and update albums and pages as your child or adult person’s needs change. TapToTalk grows with your child.

TapToTalk has given Kaitlyn, now 16, a way of communicating with us that has changed all of our lives; it is her voice. I still remember the first time Kaitlyn used her TapToTalk and told the waitress at a restaurant that she wanted a cheeseburger and french fries, she beamed with pride and I was in tears.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Happy Mother's Day to TapToTalk Moms

Dear TapToTalk Mom,

It has been our privilege to get to know hundreds of you over the years. A few face-to-face, more over the phone, and even more in email conversations, mom blogs and on Facebook. Nine out of ten of the parents we have contact with are moms.

You told us that when you found out you had a special needs child, your life changed in ways you'd never imagined. You found the strength and courage to carry on, to figure out how to get your child's needs met in a world that often did not seem to be able to respond, or even want to. Love is indeed a powerful force.

When we designed TapToTalk, you and your child were on our minds. We wanted to give you a tool to help your child communicate that was affordable and that your child would want to use. Now, we hear from you all the time. You tell us what we are doing right and what we need to improve. Your voice is heard in every one of our meetings, as we make decisions. We call it the TapToTalk Mom Test: “How will this work for the moms?”

Some of you told us that "you aren't good at computers," yet you wasted no time figuring out how to use TapToTalk Designer. You added pictures of your family and your child's favorite foods. You learned and worked hard for your child.

You have stunned us with your creativity in the ways you use TapToTalk to meet your child's needs. You bring smiles to our faces, and very often tears to our eyes, when you tell us how TapToTalk has helped you, your child, and your family.

You make what we do feel incredibly worthwhile every day. Please keep your feedback coming. We, and especially your child, could not do it without you.

Lenny Greenberg and Phil Bookman
Founders of Assistyx, the TapToTalk Company
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